Goodbye to kings and queens of the air

Jason and his buddies have left after a couple of nights in the bunkhouse.
Their colour, noise and fun leaves with them.
The quiet nags at me as I stand on the deck
after the first laundry load,
Crossing the bridge to the roundhouse.
I realise I am no longer strafed
by protective swallows
or entertained by squadrons of martins.

They haven’t gone yet!
I tell myself
It’s too early,
I know they are still here.

As I approach the door to the roundhouse
I see a shape fly past the windows.

They are still here! –

A single bird- a swallow –
curls round the profile of my home,
slowly traverses between the buildings
parallel to the bridge,
and slips out of sight
past the southern gable of the bunkhouse.

It’s horrible they have gone
but it would have been worse
if they hadn’t said goodbye.


All Hail the Funghal Empire

The braes across the road from the farm
are the frontier of the wild.
My land is witness to my tightrope walk
of partnership and control.
Across the road, empires rise and fall unchecked.
The developers are active just now,
the architects prolific:
giant structures appear overnight:
municipal play balls,
of brown and red and white,
orange, lemon yellow, greeny grey,
livid and vivid, slimy and rough,
mottled and plain,

they build from the mossy slopes
to open into platters
floating in mid-air on delicate pale stems,
or rooted with fat trunks
like farmers.

Destruction is already present,
edifices toppled by passing sheep,
or inquiring human.
Insects have honeycombed the staunchest monopod,
pockmarked their glossy heads.

Some cluster in groups, pushing outwards
as if to leave,
ammonita grow in groves of lurid sunset reds and yellows,
collared by a lacy ruff,
joyously toxic.
Others lurk pale, lonely and sinister,
these I shun: but my friends I greet:
the great Cep (not many though – and the brown birch is not so good)
orange bolete, yellow russula, and trumpeting chanterelles

Imperial architecture

Imperial architecture

The empire of the funghi is here for a spell,
with riots and uncontrolled assemblies,
before returning to the quiet earth,
and the hillsides under the trees
will be the poorer for its fall.


Summer day:cast die.

My grass was cut yesterday.
Not my lawn-
my grass-
for silage-
survival rations for the cattle this winter.
It is ridiculously late-
uncomfortable like an overdue haircut-
the grass has stopped growing,
it’s sugar content is down,
but it is cut!

Today it is baled and wrapped in black plastic.
I have 63 bales-
exactly the same as last year.
A simple piece of data-
diary entry, catalogued-
no story here for today-

except for the implications of that number.
My complement of fodder (with 46 bales bought in)
is now over a strategic hundred bales.
That is my estimated minimum for enduring 6 winter months-
when my care of the cattle is put to the test, and hardship and failure
results if I have been inaccurate or negligent.
Here is the drama for today – a projection of care,
made on a day of warm sun
and a drying breeze
with the swallows still hunting the air,
the leaves green,
and the bracken only turned enough
to highlight deeper shadow.


Sighting on the story

This is a blessed evening. Absolutely still: the colour of the flowering heather and multiple greens of bog myrtle, grasses and foliage picked out by the orange tinge of old light. Loose cloud is pasted grey against faded blue, trailing wisps picked out in rosy highlights.
Ian and I walked the Catlodge ridge, looking back east toward the farm and west along the peaks of Lochaber and the gleaming strip of Loch Laggan bordering the distinctive eminence of Creag Megaidh, the National Nature Reserve.
We start in shade with a broken sky:
“Will it stay fine” asks Ian
“No”- my reply”- but the rain won’t last long.”
At the crest the wind is harder, driving light drops from the west, chilling our faces.
In the lee of the cairn I pull out a flask of sweet black coffee to share as we watch cloud shadow and rain curtains glide slowly across the opposite face sloping up to the Monadhliath Plateau.
Standing up to stow my gear for the return, I exclaim:
‘There they are’ and pull out my binos. The enhanced view confirms the presence of 4 dozen red deer, hinds and calves, lying in the heather across the valley beneath the monument.
At more than 800 metres I cannot identify them for what they are with the naked eye, but experience of colour and shape informs me of what I was hoping to see.
Without the alertness to their presence, I would have passed over the bank of heather and orange bracken as general, part of the overall pleasure of the wide variegated landscape, and missed something unique to the place,
worth recording.

Handsome beasts

Handsome beasts

Today’s stories are like this – announcing themselves often as nothing more than shapes hinting at significance, opening like heliotropes when subjected to light – but neglected entirely without alertness zeroed on the general, the mixed – even the meaningless.


Landscape with people is quieter

The idea behind todaysstoryblog is to observe the moment, to record the highlights, however inconsequential.
This is the world I live in, that I perceive and experience directly.
Of late the real stories involve people – I cannot write stories about people, real people even though they are as much a part of my world as trees, rocks, skies and highland cattle.
To write stories about the people I know is to reduce them: evenDSCN1887 Misty Evening Light Over Upper Speyside at Laggan ce celebration is to deny them roundness, their full dimensions.
So when life is full of people, and the emotional connections they bring – I go quiet like a shy kid in the corner –
though the world turns still, the heather smells of honey and a jet plane catches the sun shining white in the late afternoon as we climb towards the monument.

Farm Accommodation, farm bunkhouse, Farm Life, Uncategorized, Uvie Farm

Breaking out

Every drop of water drawn from the taps this summer I have hauled into place.

I fill the bowser from the tap at the barn, pull it round to the basement at the west end of the bunkhouse, hook up to the alkythene pipe inserted into a hole drilled in the water tank enclosure and let it fill the system by gravity.
So every cup of tea, every toilet flush, hair/hand wash was made possible. Every shower prolonged pleasurably – was paid for in effort.

Every pot filled, garment washed, crock cleaned – was, in a sense, my artefact.

A pain in the water butt, in truth.

When the borehole pump failed first – I pulled it out for maintenance.
When the time came to replace it in the well with electrical connections reassembled, I tested it before dropping it down the 200ft shaft.
It didn’t work –

well, it worked if I stood in the dark basement like a cave-dwelling caryatid with my finger glued to it,

but it didn’t flow at the command of the float switch as it should.

So I run the quad up to the yard several times a day to handcraft the precious resource.

It has become a duty, like feeding the cattle in winter – a chore, literally, but one with a similar gift of routine. When I drive the quad round in the morning I take the measure of the day ahead, and, at night, take stock. While waiting on the twenty minute fill, I look for eggs, watch the ducklings, chop thistles and dockans, pull ragwort.
The Nog comes with me, joins the routine, noses through the silage pastures for pheasants, hares and partridge, also hunts out any hen’s eggs available for breakfast-(his breakfast)- races the quad, eats the chicken feed.

So this improvisation, born from failure and incomprehension,
has become embedded, a part of my day, of me
like a limp.

I must address this inertia.

Each day I aim by elimination to do some one thing to arrive closer to understanding the fault
One by one I have broken the electrical connections, and remade them, wired the pump to the switch in the basement, connected the dry run probe.
I suffer a teasing hiatus after clicking the trip switch – a moment of imminence- and then the light-

always red: always the stop light.
I had filled the pump with water when testing, but today I insert the heavy cylinder into the aperture used to fill the upper tank and submerge it – just in case there is some requirement for the pump casing to be immersed.

Flick the switch,

wait a half breath for the light to come on-

– green!

And this evening the heather has broken into full flower on the south facing slopes.

Okay it's pretty - but does it hide anything I can chase?!

Okay it’s pretty – but does it hide anything I can chase?!

change of season, Farm Accommodation, farm bunkhouse, Farm Life, highland landscapes, Living with Nature, today's story, Uvie Farm

Five minute story

Against expectation, the farm is flooded with sunshine. Long seeded grass in the silage fields lies almost flat under the weight of night rain and carries a polished sheen when scanned from ground level. The cattle in Logan’s meadow stand drying off the nights dampness, chewing the cud in appreciation. Housemartins and swallows forage further afield on a clear day like this, since the supply of insects around the house house is blessedly diminished by their constant activity.

That is where my attention is set.

A single leaf twists through the still air falling from the giant silver birch as I open the tap to start the flow.

Animal stories, highland landscapes, hillwalking, Living with Nature, Uncategorized, wildlife

Quiet in the evening sun

We use the same path most nights, the Nog and I: he has come to expect it.
We leave the yard by the blacksmith’s gate behind the sheds.
Passing along the old highway dominated by Tom na Cruachan, where the hanging tree stood, use broken down field dykes to negotiate the wet ground , ending at the little lift stile that, sluicelike, permits me over and the Nog beneath.
He sits waiting for the evening traffic to clear when we can cross the road into the braes and birches of the overgrown granite workings.
The tracks that used to carry carts and slow sledges loaded with stone, now trace a single thin line though chesthigh bracken. The Nog precedes me on the path, branching onto invisible scent trails between concealing fronds that tremble and sway as markers of his busyness.

Yesterday’s evening sun lay gently on the thickets of thin trees scrambling up grey rockfaces.

It was pleasant to amble with my face turned upwards-

so I tripped over the Nog rigid on the path, intent on something higher up.

After a time I saw his immobility mirrored by a doe, plain to view but indistinct against a background of branches, leaves and lichens. The Nog  looked in my direction, moving his eyes only, questioning:

as clearly as I could I signalled:
‘You go for it if you like but you know you don’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of catching a full grown roe deer so if I were you don’t even think of it, but if you want make an idiot of yourself &c &c-‘
-or thoughts to that effect.
And he listened!
– and trotted comfortably off down the path;
while the doe gathered herself to vault a fallen trunk

and eased herself

silently from sight.

farm bunkhouse, highland landscapes, hillwalking, Living with Nature, Uncategorized

Cloudy Days

There are times the cloud seems to drag along the braes, catching in the birches so that I half expect fluffy white deposits like sheepswool on barbed wire.
Other times the hilltops are axed flat, bandaged in dense vapour like fabric, impenetrable and mysterious: a time to avoid walking the high tops for fear of disorientation, however familiar the terrain.
On a good day with a breeze and broken sun, the patterns of shadow pass over hillsides and pastures like fast moving geology, picking out grey rock, a flash of green upland pasture, a blaze of bracken, the gleam of water.
Today the wind has turned from the north (where the weather lurks unseen behind the dark mass of Creag Dhubh) to south east: warm but threatening the unaccustomed.

I haul the mountain bike from the pick-up and drop it over the gate to the hill-road on Catlodge. A Blue-Grey heifer is watching, head-up, ears pricked. As I wobble off down the rocky track the rest of the herd take flight and stampede down the track ahead of me, as if on a strange new steamrailway with me the monstrous locomotive. I curse under my breath, ashamed at the disruption as if a dog was running loose

Finally, the animals turn up the hill and slow, watching me pass.

When the road turns to grass, I prop the bike against the derelict fence of some forgotten environmental scheme, pull my whistlestick from the bungey holding it to my pack, and start the foot climb. I follow the half seen road used by the old peat cutters toward the green saddle that gives onto the far valley with long views to the west.

The first drops hit smartly, and turning I see cloud lowering over Drumochter Hills. Testing the wind I am forced to acknowledge the bank of rain heading for me like vengeance.
I look for the bright broken elements that presage showers, and the chance of drying off between downpours.
This I have learned to be comfortable with. but there is no relief in prospect.

I climb on-
until suddenly-
as I walk the wild-
my mind calls up an image of bedsheets left on the line.
That does it!
The Nog obediently turns with me as I head for home –
and a world of duty.

No No - I'm talking about all those black clouds!

No No – I’m talking about all those black clouds!